Monthly Archives: June 2016
64% done with Middlemarch
Fred is going to have to earn his keep and Caleb is going to be the techer. But at least he has something he knows he can work at to win Mary’s hand, unlike Dorothea who has no path available to her.
Fred’s father is a pain. Typical middle class loading over someone with their own success and making everyone else feel small. Caleb is compassionate as we should be and not “superior” to others.
64% done with Middlemarch
Great insght: “Caleb was in a difficulty known to any person attempting in dark times and unassisted by miracle to reason with rustics who are in possession of an undeniable truth which they know through a hard process of feeling, and can let it fall like a giant’s club on your neatly carved argument for a social benefit which they do not feel.”
Upside-Down Cake: Read on June 23, 2016
Disclaimer: I never look at the name of the author before reading a story in the New Yorker, I cover it up with my hand so as not to be influenced by gender, race, or if they’re famous already. I take each story as it is with no preconceived notions.
This was a lot of fun, evil fun, but the sort of fun you’d like to have to get back at people who have been making you miserable.
Basically this is all a set up for our narrator to get back at their family. We learn everyone else is a gossip and a backbiter and generally miserable, but we never learn why the narrator is – until the end. Once we learn the narrator’s secret everyone in the family who had been maybe not quite a real character, or a bit of a generic blob, snap into focus. And the narrator isn’t exempt, either. They are just as guilty of being a bastard (pun intended, I suppose) as everyone else.
I find this to be a strange story because a lot of it is pretty generic, though with some very clever writing in it: “We had betrayed one another too many times to be able to sit comfortably around the same table together.”, and “Every visit to an aged parent is in the nature of a farewell.” In fact I was starting to think this was going to be yet another New Yorker dud that paints broad strokes about people who the author stereotypes and speaks in cliches – that’s a popular genre in this magazine, unfortunately.
Yet I think the author senses how dull a lot of these stories are and plays us for fools. He gives us a generic set up full of Roz Chast cut-outs (except for Floyd and Granma) and then turns it on its head. When we learn who the couple are that arrives late to the party and we see how the narrator was testing everyone there to see if they’d give the newcomers a chance, we learn to not take everything at face value, to look a little deeper under the surface.
Don’t judge. That’s a simple moral lesson, but we never learn it.
95% done with Upside-Down Cake
Charlie is actually family, had before been adopted and now back. And after they all complained about him at the party now they have to eat crow. Ha! Oh, that’s wicked fiendish. I like it.
Ok, that was really good. I get it now. Clever story, very good!
90% done with Upside-Down Cake
I guess her cooking was not so great. I don’t think she cares, either. She cooked meals for people who refused to like them.
Who are the new people? They took attention away from Granma, that’s bad.
This could be any family, and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Not a lot of full characters here except Granma and Floyd.
80% done with Upside-Down Cake
I like that everyone is getting warmer, you can feel tension. I like Granma being described as a cat.
“These people who take nitroglycerin for their heart,” Floyd said. “Why don’t they explode?” I laughed.
“I am not on anything.” Granma is great.
60% done with Upside-Down Cake
Personal note : I never understood how some people could enjoy a thing that is making everyone else involved miserable. How do you not let that tension creep in? Maybe I’m not good at spite.
They’re in Boston or Massachusetts. I actually figured that at the clam chowder and soda crackers line, not the ‘wicked bad’. I miss my people
40% done with Upside-Down Cake
Interesting history lesson of Cuba and the boat named Granma.
The cast of characters seem a little stock, like a Roz Chast cartoon. Floyd is fun, however. No idea about the narrator yet.
“We had betrayed one another too many times to be able to sit comfortably around the same table together. ” I like these little insights so far.
20% done with Upside-Down Cake
Great first line!
We jump forward to the party then back to as they arrive for the party. Is time used in the story creatively?
I like Granma, she’s not having the small child all over her.
63% done with Middlemarch
I doubt there has been a more insightful novel written about the middle class than this one. All the rules and norms and veiled, passive aggressive posturing hat makes up a society lacking great money but with a little education (and perhaps too much religion). I feel bad for Dorothea. She loves Will, and her feelings are not just as a woman’s but as a person’s. Who hasn’t longed deeply and been denied? Hurts
62% done with Middlemarch
Up until now we could until guess what Dorothea really felt about Will. We knew how he feels about her, but her feelings were layered. We could since she felt for Will but she betrayed nothing, not even to herself. And now that she’s alone we finally get her admission and just when there should be every possibility of happiness, she (and Will) are furthest from it because of everyone around them: Middlemarch.
The summits are situated west of the Zugspitze, 1819, Peter von Hess
The Bog Girl: Read on June 15, 2016
All I could think of was Tom Petty’s famous video where he dances with a dead Kim Basinger to his song “Last Dance With Mary Jane”. Also, Weekend At Bernie’s.
This story is really uneven. On the one hand it’s (maybe?) about how we fall in love with the idea of a person but then as we get to know them discover either we love them more or they horrify us and we dump them. On the other it’s comical and not very serious. And I’m not even sure what the story is really trying to tell us about anything.
I found the humor too detached and that didn’t jive well with other parts of the story that are really well written and (seemingly) headed somewhere interesting. But like the Bog Girl herself the story is impossible to really understand and in the end we have to toss it back into the bog.
There are also some editing choices that are poorly thought out. I’m guessing the New Yorker doesn’t suggest changes to a story but this could have benefited from some editing (rearranging sections and dropping unnecessary words) and someone should have challenged the author more to make a stronger point. What exactly are we supposed to take away from this tale? Just being strange is not enough to make it worthwhile.
I do feel that there is the possibility of a great story in here, I just don’t think the story is there yet – it’s sort of like Tim Burton’s later work that didn’t seem to have a strong theme. The characters are not very well fleshed out except for the mother but we don’t get enough of her to really know her.
Maybe if the author had given us a better narrator – maybe the mother? – then we would have a stronger story, something about a mother’s fear of another woman taking her son away. To me that seems to be the solution here if I were adapting this to a screenplay.
I did like this story, however, despite it’s weaknesses. There is some very good imagery and I feel as if a stronger story were floating somewhere just below the surface of another bog.
95% done with The Bog Girl
Interesting, but I’m not quite sure this is successful. I never really felt this was about anything concrete, just a lot of ideas that haven’t been explored well enough.
90% done with The Bog Girl
Is this supposed to represent how we don’t really know a person? Or that we fall in love with the idea of someone until that image is no longer real and we enter love them more or not at all? Is this a meditation of objectifying a person? Maybe all of the above?
80% done with The Bog Girl
I’m trying to figure this story out. It’s serious and funny, weird and normal at the same time. What are we supposed to be learning here? Is this a satire on something? So far it just seems weird to be weird, but there has to be more meaning here, right?
70% done with The Bog Girl
She’s a bad infulence – ties into the image of the rope around her neck,
“A third helping kind of guy” Great!
Hard not to recall Tom Patty’s video with Kim Basinger : Last Dance With Mary Jane. Or Weekend at Bernie’s.
60% done with The Bog Girl
If we swapped the firs twoparagraphs, then gave no dialogue (inner or extrenal) to Cillian and only showed him holding her and Then had written “Cell fell in love” (drop the rapidly, it’s unnecessary) we would have established this character better.
They’re watching TV together? HA! Love the strangeness of that. “He’s 15, she’s 2000”.
40% done with The Bog Girl
I could do without some of the “humor”, this feels like too serious of a story to ruin with off-the-cuff language.
We haven’t established Cillian as a character yet to make this protective image of him and his judgment of the people around him believable yet. I feel like we’re going too fast. It’s jarring
20% done with The Bog Girl
Switching the paragraphs would make the joke about Cillian’s proximity to the job site better because then we’d already have been given the far-flung locale first (“not really on the circuit”).
Start big then get closer to the characters
Why are young men always written as having some weird sex fantasy – it’s cliche. Boys need to be written better.
10% done with The Bog Girl
“While operating heavy machinery” that line feels awkward. Couldn’t you just say the name of the machine: “While operating a backhoe …”?
Ah, this second paragraph really should be the first paragraph. That would tie in better with Cillian’s “celery green eyes” as an image working outward (I mean start with the natural image then give that image to the character through his eyes).
Trafalgar: Read from June 12 to June 14, 2016
A writer has to have a certain confidence to be able to tell a story about how everything was lost: a love, a friend, a life, and a battle. Yet in losing we get a glimpse at how Galdos perceived the Spanish character in all its forms. We have characters who are tremendous braggarts, old men still filled with the passions of youth, society women so wrapped up in fashion and gossip as to be beyond clowns. Galdos paints with a broad brush and though we never dig very deep into these characters, he, unlike any other writer I can think of, is both satirical and empathetic at the same time to everyone on the page.
The story is straightforward: our young hero is plucked from the streets and made a servant in a good home, falls in love with the lady of the hours, goes off with the master of the house to a glorious yet disastrous naval battle, comes home and decides to leave his adopted family and live a life of adventure at sea. The writing too is straightforward, Galdos had been a journalist and uses simple language to tell his story and sticks to the facts but never leaves out the appropriate time to add some color.
This is an adventure tale, the first of many in a series of “National Episodes” (a serial) and it sets the stage for what Spain had become. No longer was she the glory of Europe, she had become a relic, her court was not to be taken serious, her Navy lumbering and ill managed, her men full of false ideas of glory too late in life, and her women fed up with the men. A strange setting then to set an adventure story of a young man to learn about life, yet what Galdos does so well is to show us how people behave, for good or for bad. He wants the reader to take his Spain seriously, though he’s just as able to laugh at his country too.
At the heart of the tale is a caution against allowing someone else to rule over us. Here the French tell the Spanish how to fight the battle, and lose (Napoleon says “I can’t be everywhere”), and our narrator too walks away from a life of service even though that means leaving the woman he loves and can never, ever have. He has to find his own way, a new way, even if that leads to disaster, as it did for his master.
And deeper still is Galdos showing us how important it is to know whom to believe about anything. On every page there are people telling him this or that, some of it true, some not, and it’s up to him (and us, ultimately) to learn to be discerning. Because to just rush off and act on emotion can lead to ruin just as bad information can ruin us, but there is also truth to be found between lies and being able to see that is a life-long lesson.
I believe Galdos was fascinated by what contradicts people. In one breath a character can be a buffoon and also wise. And as he ends the novel on a clear winter’s day, our narrator instead of seeing the world as it is, sees it as a summer day with the warm breezes, the orange trees, the roses in bloom: he sees the potential but also the contradictions between winter and summer, the contradictions that live inside each of us.
57% done with Trafalgar
For years I’ve been wanting to read a good book about Age of Sail naval battles. I tried Master and Commander, but found it over written, and other books here and there just didn’t do it for me. This, however! This is a sea story like you dream of! he battle scene of Chapter XI is fantastic, edge of your seat action. I love this book!
54% done with Trafalgar
Each set of characters we meet is more eccentric than the previous. I think what Glados is doing here is showing us how unfit and outclassed the Spanish were against Nelson and the English. We see what Spain became by the end of their power.
The descriptions of the city and especially of them sailing out of Port is beautiful! Very romantic but it’s in keeping with the narrator who is only 14-15.
32% done with Trafalgar
As a lover of sea stories and my new found admiration for Galdos I wanted to read something sort of light and that didn’t require me to take a ton of notes – I just wanted to enjoy a novel for fun. And this is a very good story so far – clearly written, funny, and vibrant.
page 117 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
“I cannot rid myself of the idea that certain tributes which are tendered to living authors who are still enveloped, one might say, in the heat of battle, preset this danger: that posterity, which is always infallible, may revoke them in time, modifying or even nullifying the quite premature judgment of contemporaries.”
page 116 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
Most of what he wrote was a first draft. The only thing he would really change was repition, and he would change any repeated words for their synonym.
I assume his revising was all done beforehand in his preparation for writing. Yet he didn’t outline and he left behind few notes. He did have lots of maps, train schedules, and even family trees for his National Episodes, bhishe just wrote.
page 108 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
He had a straightforward process to writing. He did a lot of reserch – he preferred living documents over all – and then once he gathered all his notes he could write a novel very quickly, from 2 weeks to a month in some cases, but even Fortunata and Jacinta too only about a year.
page 102 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
Trafalgar was a large success. And it’s success was even literary in its retelling in that University Medical students were smuggling the book into lectures and so instead of learning the science of healing a Spaniard, they were learning the morality of healing one (at the expense of malpractice).
Putting the National flag on the cover was a clever marketing touch.
page 98 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
The narrator of Trafalgar is his humble father.
The National Episodes (Episodios nacionales ) were his cycle of Spanish history, fictionalized but grounded in real events and realized through major research and interviews with eye witnesses. A sort of precursor to Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote and those sorts of writers.
page 92 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
He believed that revolutions could never really bring about change, only through human reform (education, really), by reforming the national conscience could he really bring about change. He would focus on people, not so much institutions.
page 92 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
The two works [LA fontana de oro, and El audaz] made him realize that human institutions are fundamentally only concepts and abstractions, and that the basic reality of society is the individual.”
page 90 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
“It was so pleasant to dream that he was reluctant to come into contact with reality.”
He very much is a person who drinks in everything around him, filters it in his own way, then transforms it to the page. His minatures, his journalism , his wanderings around Madrid taking in the “flavor”, he’s been soaking this up for a long time.
page 88 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
Glados was interested “hat the novel could be converted from an agency for mere artistic pastime into a powerful instrument of social and moral education.” Like Dickens, Balzac, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky , and others from around this time.
page 88 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
Don Eugenio de Ochoa: “… the past is a sepulcher; we should venerate it, but as for burying ourselves alive in it – never!”
page 85 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
He privately published his first novel, La Fontana de Oro because he didn’t want to publish in subscription installments as we’re popular at the time.
page 82 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
2 separate demonstrations: one in which the leaders could not understand what the crowd was yelling, the other where the crowd could not hear what the leaders were saying. Thus Spanish political tumult.
He joins a society club, but only for its library! Well done, Benito.
page 80 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
“In art imagination should function as a faculty and not an aberration or an organic vice.”
“In general, the novelist’s chief concern is the study of human behavior as a resultant of man’s inability to distinguish the real from the imaginary.”
This is what he explore in La Sombra (The Shadow).
page 78 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
Survivors of the clash were shot against the wall by artillery officers the next day. He was so horrified by this he ran home and took solace in his books.
page 77 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
He describes one of the revolutionary clashes as (the sounds of) “the groans of victims, raging oaths, bloody exaltations, hateful voices.”
Very clear, concise language that still gets across the anger and violence of the scene
Before the Storm, 1960, Leonid Fokin
page 71 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
“In his worship of the indigenous and the popular Glados often finds sublimity where someone less [though I’d word it as “more cynical”] prejudiced might see only bad taste.”
What I find unique about Glados is that he can see both extremes – he loves Spain and is able to see the reasons even in Spain’s bad behvaior, but he can also see the ridiculous and banal in it, too. He’s uncommonly fair and observant.
page 70 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
Not just being well read, but also (barring an occasional youthful severity) “His fundamental preoccupation is with the distortion of values, with the distressing distance between things as they are and things as they shoul
page 68 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
He tried to be a dramatist but he didn’t think much of his work – even wanted it burned. Seems he really learned how to be a writer as a journalist – would make sense since you have to be able to communicate clearly and with style to be successful – which he was.
60% done with Middlemarch
I really liked this chapter because not only is it very straight forward in its plot (no obscure political refreneces) but also straightforward in Fred’s and Mary’s feelings for each other, and especially here’s for what she wants to see him accomplish (or not, as in being clergy)
58% done with Middlemarch
Mr Broke is not nearly the politician he thinks he is, and that’s juxtaposed with Will’s fantasy about Dorothea one day coming around to his side of love. Neither man is very realistic – no wonder they get on so well.
page 61 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
I love the description of his “spiritual hygine” as he wanders the more humble, working class sections of the city (and the churches, too). The one street with the 88 taverns with red-painted fronts, the rhythm of speech from washer women, collecting rents and seeing the poor.
page 59 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
“He discovered that language was the spice of life for the humble people – and he never forgot that discovery.”
page 56 of 499 of Pérez Galdós : Spanish liberal crusader
His ability to be a good sport among his friends and some musical talent loosened up his crowd and allowed him to catch the flavor of cliche and peach around him as well as the mood about events. He could break the ice then pick up the cubes.